As it generally happens, the butterflies in the stomach prior to start of an event quickly gave away to a sense of liberation. The wait was over and we were in the business end of the record attempt.
BHPian Hunter3077 recently shared this with other enthusiasts.
Guinness attempt: Punching above my weight:
Note to the readers:
When I attempted (successfully) to break the existing Guinness record for fastest cycling from Leh to Manali, I did not know what would be the result. All I wanted was to attempt it and if nothing, create some memorable experience with my crew. I say it with conviction that if I could achieve this, anyone with the right intent can do it and it’s no exaggeration. In the aftermath of the event, many people wanted to know the experience of the ride including the preparation stage. It has taken me a long time to finally sit down and chart it out in this piece. It is my opinion that the Guinness ride should not be seen in isolation because the events that preceded the ride are equally (if not more) important to understand the real significance of the Leh-Manali ride. By means of this write up, I do not intend to get into a self glorification mode but since it is a first person account, I will talk about it from my perspective. This will be as honest an account as can be and it is a testimony to what a human body can achieve if the circumstances and people align themselves in facilitating what the mind wants. Few people will figure repeatedly in my write up, so a brief about them:
- Ramya – My wife
- AK Sir – My ex CO and a mentor and Guide
- Satish Sir – Veteran Cyclist and a Guru
- Pradeep Sir – My ex CO and a Josh box
- Nitin Sir – Elite PARA officer and an ultra athlete
- Sumit Patil – Ultra Cyclist and a super human being
- Kedar Joshi – Extremely spirited Coursemate
- Tanvi – Cycling friend and coffee expert. Owns Metta cafe in Leh.
- Kabir – As per me, the best Ultra cyclist in India right now.
- Bharat Pannu – A senior and an ultra cyclist with multiple Guinness records under his belt.
Few terminologies which might confuse you from time to time:
- RAAM – Race Across America. An annual event and supposedly the toughest cycling race in the world.
- RAAM Qualifier – Event that, if completed in time makes one eligible to participate in RAAM.
- Brevet(BRM)- Organised rides of 200/300/400/600/1000/1200 km which are officially logged and recognised.
- Super Randonneur(SR) – The title one gets if he/she completes 200,300,400 & 600 km in a cycling calendar which is 01 November to 31 Oct.
Brevity is not a virtue I possess and honestly it would be an injustice to rush over this entire experience. Each event is linked to another, so be with me, ride this experience with me and feel free to share your feedback.
‘Skills are cheap, Passion is priceless’
It was a pleasant Sunday morning and I had a certain ‘feel good’ while cycling atop Khardung La. I had earlier attempted to scale Khardung La but had returned from South Pullu. Today I was certain of going the distance. About 3 km short of the Top, I had to navigate a kilometre long sandy and rocky patch and I made a mental note to dismount from my bike while riding down so as so avoid slipping on this tricky stretch. Once on the Top, I felt exhilarated. I had cycled 80 kilometres from Karu till here in a decent time and as per my expected timelines. After a quick refilling of water and mandatory photoshoot, I started on the descent which extended all the way to Choglamsar past Leh. Riding down at speeds in excess of 60 kmph, I felt a cold shiver because of the winds. My palms inside the gloves were getting numb from holding on to the brake lever continuously too. Before I could realise, I was staring ahead at that same sandy patch which I had noticed during my uphill climb and with no reaction time whatsoever, my Bike started slipping on the loose sand, stones and hit pothole after pothole. I lost complete control of my bike and the brake levers seemed to have surrendered too. Upon doing some quick thinking in those frenetic moments, I decided to steer my bike to the left so as to avoid the sheer fall into the valley on the right. As I steered left, huge boulders and the mountain side looked me straight in the eye. I said a quick prayer and braced for the impending impact. I crashed into the boulders and flew off the bike.
Cycling Scene Post ‘Super Randonneur’ Status:
I had picked up cycling in the winter of 2018 and completed my SR in September 2019. That journey has been detailed in my previous post (link here). After the SR, I continued participating in Brevets in Jaipur and I did really enjoy the vibrant cycling community there. Rides were fun and challenging too. In February 2020, I attempted a 1000 km brevet organised by the Bathinda Randonneurs. That was my first tase of long distance riding combined with sleep deprivation. The route had good elevation gain and felt challenging to me. I completed the ride in 68 hours but not before succumbing to serious hallucinations and mind freeze moments in the last 100 km because of an acute paucity of sleep. All in all, a good learning.
Then of course we were all bit by COVID and outdoor rides stalled completely. At around the same time, I got posted out of Rajasthan. I had also started thinking about what direction to take post doing the brevets and was it not the logical step to probably raise the bar and do something more challenging? I mean, brevets are fine. Great to ride in groups and share a sense of camaraderie with a group who share a common love for cycling but they are not too challenging and demanding on the body and the rider’s skill sets. And I got in touch with Lt Col Bharat Pannu who was already a known name in the Indian Ultra cycling scene. He had just participated in the virtual RAAM and got a podium finish which was no mean feat. He also held the Guinness record for fastest cycling from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. I surmised that he could probably give me a little guidance to align me to the ultra cycling field. I spoke to him and he did guide me but of course I was an unknown entity to him and it wasn’t possible for him to really understand what I was capable of and what to suggest.
24 Hours Virtual Time Trial (VTT):
Few days later, he sent me a link to a virtual cycling competition. It was called Virtual Time trial (VTT) and was being organised on Independence Day by a group who called themselves ‘Irregulars’! Sumit Patil, Hitisha and Tanvi were part of the organising team among others. There were 3 categories – 6, 12 & 24 hours. I registered for the 24 hour category and the requirement was to ride for 24 hours and achieve at least 680 km for anyone to be a finisher. We needed indoor trainers for the event and I managed to get a used trainer just a week prior to the event and somehow did the bare minimum to get acquainted with indoor riding. We were 7 riders in the 24 hour category and I did not know any of them. We started promptly at 6 AM with an aim to ride till 6 AM on the morrow and clock 680 km. We were doing the ride on Zwift and it was a loop of 17 km that had to be repeated in a loop. I clocked 611 km and stood 4th. Wasn’t easy, especially managing what and when to eat and drink. To put things into perspective, Mayank clocked 771 km and Kabir clocked 751 km. These were some of the top riders in India. I did feel a sense of accomplishment. My first Ultra ride!
5 Day SR (200,300,400 & 600 km in 5 days):
In February 2021, I signed up for a 5 day SR organised by the Jalandhar Randonneurs. Rohit bhai was the organiser and I had done a 400 km brevet earlier with them. The hospitality of Punjab is well known yet I will still awed by their excellent conduct. This 5 day SR was to begin with a 600 km ride which was mostly in the Punjab plains without any major climbs. It was to be followed by a 300 km ride to Baba Balak Nath Temple near Una, Himachal Pradesh and it was a challenging route with good elevation gain. Then came the 400 km ride from Jalandhar through Pathankot, Dharamsala, Kangra, Jwala Ji and Chintpurni back to Jalandhar. This ride really tested us all. Not only was the elevation gain a factor, but the bad roads in Himachal added to our fatigue and toughness quotient. We were 5 of us doing the entire SR series – Kanwar, Grinshina, Ramanpreet, Renu ma’am and self and we stuck together for the entire route and managed to complete it just in time. Within a couple of hours of completing this ride, we had to commence our 200 km ride to Chintpurni Temple which again was a lot of climb! Finally, by about midnight, we finished the ride and there was a lot of jubilation and joy at the culmination which we signed off with a well deserved party.
The 5 day SR was my first real taste of mountains and this quantum of climbing was never attempted by me earlier. It was undoubtedly a tough 1500 km in 5 days and not only did it provide satisfaction but also was a revelation to me that I needed to work on my climbing abilities.
La La Land Ultra:
It was May 2021 and I was making plans to participate in a ‘Manali-Turtuk’ bike race called the La La land Ultra. It was a 700 km race which was required to be completed in 100 hours to be a successful finisher. This was also being organised by ‘Irregulars’ and was the longest Ultra ride in Mountains being organised anywhere in the world. I was discussing some of the finer aspects of preparations with Bharat Pannu sir who had, in the previous year (2020), cycled from Leh to Manali and established a new Guinness record for fastest solo cycling (Men) on that route. As we were conversing, he suggested I attempt to break his record of Leh-Manali. I dismissed the suggestion considering it was just polite talk. But he continued to suggest in our subsequent conversations too. His main reason was that the record will remain among the Indian army fraternity. In the next few days, he sent me the link to apply for the record through the Guinness website. To humour him, I filled up the online application and promised to think about the attempt seriously (yet I wasn’t serious at all!).
In June, I moved to Ladakh as part of our official commitments and I started thinking about the record attempt. The La La land ultra was cancelled because of the COVID third wave and that was a bummer. There was a likelihood of ‘Great Himalayan Ultra’ happening which was an annual event organised by ‘Inspire India’ and it was a RAAM qualifier event. I was involved in work related activities for the better part of June and July and it was only on 19 July did I take out my bike for a first ride in the Ladakh terrain. I was doing small rides every day and wanted to acclimatise to the weather and altitude before graduating to longer rides. On 31 July, I received an email from Guinness approving my Leh-Manali attempt. Now I was in a fix. There was no excuse for me to not attempt it now and I told myself to gear up. Time was short as I had tentatively planned to attempt it in the last week of September which gave me around 50 days of preparation time, not counting the interruptions in practice due to work related issues.
I steadily increased my riding distances and also was doing fair amount of climbs. The Great Himalayan Ultra and the Leh-Manali routes both comprised long and steep climbs. Even though I didn’t enjoy climbs, I hardly had any choice in this matter. I was doing 50-75 km daily and 100+km on Sundays. One Sunday I wanted to do Khardung La and back – a total distance of 160 km from where I was. I turned back from South Pullu (15 km short of Khardung La Top) and could only achieve 125 km. Similarly another Sunday I wanted to do Tanglang La and back and again I turned back before summiting the top. However, these rides were preparing me for the long haul ahead. Or so I thought! I also did repeated rides on the Lamayuru climb which is enroute Fotu La (Leh-Kargil route) in preparations for the Great Himalayan Ultra. The Himalayan Ultra was going to be my dress rehearsal for the Guinness record attempt of Leh-Manali route. And the added bonus would be to be a RAAM qualifier if I completed the Himalayan Ultra in 37 hours.
And then the Khardung La crash happened. It was 22 Aug and I had finally reached Khardung La top. But there was a twist in the tale and I suffered that mighty crash. For a while, I was completely disoriented with the fall. I could sense that the right portion of my body was in bad shape since it had taken the maximum impact. I was bleeding from shoulder to toes and I could feel a few broken ribs as my breathing was causing me pain. My helmet had broken but my head was safe. The bike was damaged a lot too. The shifters and brakes had broken and the wheels were damaged. I took a moment to gather myself and my belongings and made my way to South Pullu for some first aid. I rang up my unit to ask for a vehicle and reached South Pullu with the help of a good samaritan in his TATA 460. After a few hours, I reached my unit and got checked up by the Doctor. I had six X-rays taken the following day to check for any broken bones. Fortunately there were none. But it would take a few weeks, if not more, for my body to mend and get back to riding fitness. The Himalayan Ultra was 18 days away and my Leh-Manali attempt was roughly 4 weeks away. My plans had been thrown astray.
Post the crash:
I took the next few days off to recuperate. In any case, I did not have a bike to practice too. I began looking for options to get a replacement bike. I reckoned that rather than borrow a bike temporarily from someone, it would be better to get a new one. I began to look for options. Around this time, when news of my accident spread across to my school group, people started discussing on how best they could help me. I did my schooling from Sainik school Korukonda (Saikorians) and it is a very close knit bunch of people whether in uniform or in the civilian field. Word travelled and retired Generals of our school got in touch with me. They assured me that I will get all possible help. That was definitely a ray of hope. The news was then conveyed to the Artillery directorate in Army HQ and things got into motion. Within no time, I was told that the Artillery wanted to pitch in to support my Guinness attempt. The DG Artillery personally handed over a substantial cash incentive to me in the first week of September. The organisation had stepped in and how! That was the day I really did consider seriously about breaking the record. If so many people had trust in my abilities then it was only natural that I should too. In a way, it was a turning point in my mindset and my preparation. I got myself a new road bike and started riding again after a hiatus of 2 weeks. The Himalayan Ultra was just a week away.
Supported rides & crew:
In cycling parlance, there are two kinds of rides – supported and self supported. In self supported or unsupported, the rider is own his/her own. The nutrition, hydration is on person. There is no external support, so to say. In supported rides, there is a crew of the rider who are responsible to look after all the needs of the rider ranging from nutrition to hydration to sleep breaks and to the entire planning for the ride. In a nutshell, the rider only rides and everything is looked after by the crew. RAAM qualifier races are mandatorily supported rides. Which meant that I needed a crew of my own. In the past, I had never done supported rides and neither did I have any clue as to the mechanics of it nor did I have a crew. But I had to assemble a team and that too at short notice.
Satish sir stepped in to be my crew chief since he had abundant cycling knowledge and he reached Leh a week prior to the event. I requested AK sir who was posted nearby to join my crew and even though he had no clue about cycling, he joined the crew for the bond we shared. The crew was completed when Kedar Joshi, a course mate of mine joined in under similar conditions as AK sir. Tanvi very graciously lent us her car to serve as the crew vehicle and Sumit guided us with some fundamentals of supported rides and the peculiarities of the Himalayan Ultra route. He himself had done the event twice and he was a veteran of Ladakh riding routes. I wanted him in my crew but he was already crewing for Kabir. My wife was the 4th member of my crew but she wasn’t travelling in the crew vehicle. She was to be centrally placed at Kargil to look after logistics and food enroute.
To be honest, this is not how one approaches events like these. We had just thrown few people into the mix with no prior planning and preparations and just hoped that things would fall into place. They don’t. There were 7 participants in our category with Kabir being the reigning champion of the previous 2 editions of the event. He was at the peak of his riding career and undoubtedly would repeat his past performance. Our aim was to finish the event in RAAM timings which was 37 hours. We were to turn back at Dras and while reaching Kargil on our way back, there was a mandatory halt of 4 hours before we had to start back from Kargil to Leh. I tried to get as much sleep as possible a day prior to the event but was nervous and restless.
Great Himalayan Ultra (11 September 2021):
Leh-Nurla (115 km):
The dawn of 11 September welcomed us with a steady drizzle. We lined up at the start point by 5 AM and kicked off after one another at 5.30 AM.
We had to ride in the opposite direction till Thiksey Monastery and then turn back again towards Leh and then continue our way to Dras through Kargil. It was fairly cold and the rain didn’t make it any easier. We had a timeline in place but I told my crew that it was flexible and not to adhere too much by those timelines. By the time we crossed Leh after turning back from Thiksey, 4 riders had already crossed me. The going was tough but I had confidence of catching up. The climb to Gurudwara Pathar sahib is tough. It is continuous and the worst part is that it seems like a flat and yet one has to labour hard at high cadence and low speeds. From Pathar Sahib, the route rolls down to Nimmu and I flew on that patch. After crossing Nimmu, I halted briefly to change my water sodden socks which were making my toes numb with the cold. Then the Basgo climb looms ahead after a short respite at Nimmu. I was doing fine and there were no major concerns. But I was definitely not eating enough to fuel me up. Prior to the event, we had discussed what are my eating options and me being a fussy eater, we had very limited menu to choose from. I thrive on rice and my go to food is curd rice. But obviously, I couldn’t only be on that. We were carrying dates, figs, bananas and potato chips to supplement me on timely intervals. Yet, I wasn’t eating sufficient amounts. The same was with my electrolyte intake. I consume Enerzal mixed in water and I wasn’t drinking enough. My crew was insisting me to, but I was brushing them off.
Nurla-Fotu La-Budhkharbu (188 km):
I crossed Nurla in fairly good spirits. Two riders were still behind me and I was enjoying the ride. Around the same place my wife and son crossed me in a vehicle enroute to Kargil. At Khaltse, my crew stopped me forcefully to feed me a samosa. I reluctantly consumed it and told them to relax since I could sense that they were tense and serious. I told them that I was completely in rhythm and there was nothing to worry. I had done this route multiple times so I knew exactly what to expect. I was bracing up for the impending Lamayuru and Fotu La climbs which were important. We took a short break at the base of Lamayuru climb to quickly consume a banana and then I took off. It is a stiff and steep climb to Lamayuru and then it eases a bit and then again climbs up to Fotu La top. I took two breaks enroute Fotu La and reached the top by 4 PM. I was slightly behind schedule but nothing that could not be compensated. We rolled down till Haniskot and again climbed till Budhkharbu. At Budhkharbu, we took a break to replenish. I had some dal rice but did not enjoy the food as much. It was cold and it was raining and I was feeling the cold with all the wet clothing. The break at Budhkharbu stretched beyond what we would have hoped for.
Beyond Budhkharbu, I started to tire. My body wasn’t getting enough fuel in terms of nutrition and hydration and the energy was getting sapped pretty quickly. We climbed Namik La and then rolled down to Mulbekh, but with frequent halts. We had planned to reach Kargil by 6 PM and I could only reach Namik La top by then. We still believed that we were ok. From Mulbekh also it was a slow ride till Kargil which we finally hit by 8 PM. There was one more rider-Mustafa who was riding immediately ahead of me and we both started from Kargil towards Dras at around the same time. At Kargil, my wife tried to force feed me some hot Khichdi, but I consumed very little. My list of mistakes was increasing.
Kargil-Dras (318 km):
We started from Kargil by about 8.30 PM and I thought we will reach Dras control point by 11.30 and how wrong was I. The mistake I made was to underestimate this stretch by a mile. The entire route is a steady climb and at places, steep too. I did not realise this as I had never ever ridden a cycle on this stretch. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that this passage of the race broke my will to ride. I was tired, fatigue had crept into my limbs and my mind had started to give up. I was taking frequent halts too. I was lagging behind and my crew was losing hope. I’m sure they would have been disappointed with my pace but they did not show it. It was still raining and very cold. I made slow and painful progress. Halfway to Dras, my course mates were waiting for me with fresh curd rice at Thasgam. It lifted my spirits to see them but I couldn’t consume much. A few km after Thasgam, I halted and asked AK sir if it was prudent to continue the race. I thought we should think of the Guinness attempt and preserve the body rather than get fatigued so much in this ride that the body doesn’t recover in time for the Leh-Manali ride. He was definitely surprised at this thought process and told me not to think and just ride till Dras. I continued reluctantly. Beyond Bhimbat (10 km short of Dras), I was riding only because AK sir kept motivating me (and shouting expletives) to make me ride. I did not want to. The cut off at Dras was 1.30 AM and I was dangerously close to missing the cut off. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally made it to the control point at 1.25 AM.
We started back after a brief break and Mustafa was just ahead of me. So, all was not yet lost. I was still within cut off timings but I needed to reach Kargil by 4 AM to still remain in the race. I was riding slowly and my mind was shutting down. Sleep deprivation had set in and there were times when I was dozing off while riding and had to pinch myself, shout out and think of my wife and son waiting at Kargil to keep myself on the saddle. Halfway to Kargil, I was dozing off repeatedly. My crew observed me and asked me to halt and take a power nap in the car. I happily obliged. The warmth of the car as compared to the rain outside further demoralised me. I woke up and started riding again and still kept dozing off while riding. It was getting risky. And because of the slow pace, I was definitely going to miss the Kargil cut off time. My crew decided that it was enough and pulled me out of the race. I did not once protest. We went back to Thasgam and crashed into the warmth of one of the guest-rooms. My crew informed the organisers and my wife about our decision to quit the race and my wife kept insisting them to push me to ride till Kargil where a mandatory 4 hour halt would make good my sleep requirement. But the dice was cast. I quit the Himalayan Ultra after riding 340 km in approximately 23 hours!
The ignominy of quitting:
The next morning was difficult. Quitting is shameful, especially for someone from the Armed forces background. If I was completely honest with myself, I had lost the will to ride beyond Dras. My mind had given up. I dont blame my crew. They are required to take decisions during the course of the race and whatever they deem correct, shall be followed. It is the crew’s task to decide these things since the rider is not always in the best of his/her mental faculties. But I knew I could have gone till Kargil and my wife knew that too. She was sorely disappointed by the decision to quit. After a 4 hour sleep break at Kargil, probably I could have pushed till Leh. But these are all conjectures now and hindsight is very cruel. The bottomline is that the next morning, we made it back to Leh in our vehicle with a fatigued body and a shattered mind. This was my cross to bear.
The post mortem at Metta Cafe (13 September):
We returned to Leh by evening of 12 September. The dejected me stayed in for solitude rather than for recovery. My wife attended the award ceremony of the Himalayan Ultra on 13 September where other riders and crew inquired about me. Mustafa, who was just ahead of me at Dras had completed the ride despite not being in RAAM qualifying time. Kudos to him and all the other riders. Sumit and Kabir expressed the intent to meet up and discuss what went wrong for us. We decided to rendezvous at Metta cafe along with my crew. There were serious question marks on the future. The Leh-Manali ride was scheduled for 25 Sep which was less than two weeks away. I had lost confidence in myself and I’m not very sure if my crew had faith too. Regardless, we decided to sit and analyse the entire ride. So there we were – Ramya, AK Sir, Satish sir, Kedar Joshi, Sumit, Tanvi, Kabir and Jyothi (Kabir’s crew member and Bharat Pannu’s crew chief when he did Leh-Manali the previous year).
The bottomline was that we did not plan our nutrition and hydration properly and that was the reason I could not carry on. My crew was also candid in accepting that they did not have a clue as to what I preferred to eat and drink and also the fact that we managed to assemble at the last minute and therefore the planning was utterly inadequate. We, however agreed that I should have carried on and completed the ride instead of quitting midway. The general consensus was that I should not attempt the Guinness record this year and wait for the next summer which would give us time to prepare and give a fair attempt. There was also this aspect of road conditions that was highlighted by Sumit and AK sir wherein a 22 km stretch between Brandy bridge and Sarchu Nala was completely devoid of any tarmac and was under construction by the BRO. That stretch could seriously affect our timings and it was only expected to be repaired by the end of the season. “The Leh-Manali route is not going anywhere. Attempt it next year”, they all said.
But how could I now take a back step? A major part of the Army organisation had already chipped in for 25 Sep 2021. The stage was set and the event was being included as part of ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ and as an event to commemorate 195th Gunner’s day celebrations. There was too much at stake to now for me to back down. I was adamant that I would go ahead whether or not the crew agrees. There were fierce debates, arguments and counter arguments. My wife supported my decision. We wanted Sumit to join our crew for the Guinness attempt. His inclusion would greatly boost our crew in terms of experience, especially considering that he was familiar with the entire Leh-Manali route like the back of his hand. Kedar Joshi would be returning and could not come back for the Guinness attempt and we were acutely short of crew members. Sumit understood the situation and predicament and he said he was returning to Mumbai but would come back to Leh and join our crew if I definitely decided to go ahead with the ride. His only condition was that I should first recce the route and satisfy myself that the ride was possible under the current road conditions. Come to think of it, I had not once seen the route on which I was attempting to break a world record! AK Sir and Satish sir agreed to return to crew for me too. But the general feeling among everyone was not very optimistic and they were hoping that I heed their advice and drop the plan for this year.
What did I feel? The thought of not doing the ride did not occur to me at all. Granted that I had quit the Himalayan Ultra but that was primarily because my mind gave up midway. If I could just show a little more mental fortitude, I could have finished the ride. Yes, the route recce was important and that was a good outcome of this meeting.
On that note ended our iconic post mortem.
The route recce:
On 17 September, we embarked on the route recce to ascertain the feasibility of attempting the ride and seeing the route first hand. It would have been plain stupidity to cycle the route without even seeing it once. I’m glad my crew coerced me into doing this exercise even if their intention was to dissuade me from attempting the ride. The road from Leh to Pang was good, barring minor patches. From Pang, the road deteriorated into a gravel track which was narrow and climbed steadily up to Lachung La. From Lachung La to Whiskey Nala was bad with descent all through. The road again climbed to Nakee La and then descended to Sarchu Plains through the famous Gata Loops. This stretch of the road was good too. The worst stretch was after the Gata loops from the Brandy bridge to Sarchu Nala. To my horror, I saw that there was no road at all. It was just a stretch of sand and rocks. Even the trusted Maruti Gypsy had to move on 4×4. There was no way a road bike could be ridden on this patch which continued for 22 km. From Sarchu the road was good till Killingsarai and then a very bad patch of 1 km which could not be ridden. The road to Baralacha La was intermittently good and bad where I would have to unmount from my bike and walk in few locations. The descent from Baralacha La to ZingZing Bar was okay and then it improved till Patseo and then to Darcha and to Rohtang La. The descent from Rohtang to Manali was not great and was strewn with lot many potholes and road construction activity. On vehicle, we took 16 hours to reach Manali.
We took a day at Manali to explore the surroundings and started back to Leh on 19 September. This time, I was making a note of the major points in the route and doing a mental mapping of the entire ride. I also formulated a rough time plan for my ride with plans to reach specific locations at specific time. Upon reaching Leh, I told my crew that I would be attempting the ride. They accepted my decision and promised to be there. I had a detailed talk with Sumit in which we went over the entire route breaking it into segments and assigning time for each segment till Manali. At the end of the call, we realised that as per our time plan, we were reaching Manali in 35 hours and 30 minutes. The previous record was 35 hours and 32 minutes. I congratulated Sumit on us breaking the record by 2 minutes! His response was that even if we break it by 2 minutes, it is still a new record. Couldn’t argue with that logic. Sumit was on board and reaching Leh in the next couple of days.
I called up my crew and told them of my decision to attempt the record and they accepted. I also made it clear that I have not become a better rider overnight (since the Himalayan ultra) and that we need to plan and prepare well for us to get this done. I said the aim is to break the record and how it is to be executed is for all of us to work out. It was that simple.
Since Kedar Joshi was not returning to crew for this ride, we were left with AK sir and Satish sir. Sumit replaced Kedar Joshi but we were still short of crew members because we wanted to use two support vehicles for this ride. One ahead, looking after my nutrition and hydration and one following me behind at all times. I called up Pradeep sir who was posted down South and he promptly agreed to join. Nitin sir also got on board and thus we had 5 crew members plus my wife who was to assist in the nutrition aspects. The entire crew was to assemble at Leh by 22 September to go over all the preparations and to cover finer aspects of planning.
The external support (And noise):
I have mentioned earlier too that I received a lot of support from my family, friends, School group, the Army and the cycling community. One has to be fortunate to get so much support that I did. I was lucky to be surrounded by good people who wanted to see me succeed. The Artillery had pitched in and provided financial and moral support. My parent unit was cheering for me and two of my ex COs had joined my crew. My wife was with me in Ladakh from the first week of September and was doing her best to enable me achieve these aims of mine. I must mention that the cycling community is a wonderful and vibrant group of selfless people who share a common joy of cycling and I am extremely fortunate to have garnered tremendous support from all corners. Where there is support, there is noise too. We have no control over it. The best thing of course is to ignore it but that is easier said than done. I was disturbed and that noise acted as a catalyst to drive me to break the record.
I was no longer thinking of just attempting. I was now focussed on breaking the record. There was a lot at stake, least of all the trust that so many people had in me. I told Sumit and Nitin sir that come what may, this record had to be broken, whatever be the costs. The news of me attempting the Guinness record had already been tweeted by Army handles and news channels too so it was no longer a secret and I was already receiving wishes from many people who wanted to see me achieve the landmark.
The route: Leh-Manali or Manali-Leh?
Leh to Manali route traverses 5 major passes – Tanglang La (the highest pass enroute at 17,600 Ft), Lachung La, Nakee La, Baralacha La and finally the Rohtang La. The same passes have to tackled when one rides from Manali to Leh (obviously!) and there is a common misconception that Leh to Manali is just rolling down while Manali to Leh is the real climb. Manali to Leh elevation gain is approximately 2000 metres more than Leh to Manali elevation gain but that does not translate into the fact that Leh-Manali is descent. One still has to climb all these passes either way. And more importantly, Guinness recognises the attempt from Place ‘A’ to ‘B’ as well as from ‘B’ to ‘A’. The previous record was from Leh to Manali and I did exactly that.
For the benefit of all, I shall describe the route. Leh – Karu – Upshi – Rumtse – Tanglang La – More Plains – Debring – Pang – Lachung La – Whiskey Nala – Nakee La – Gata Loops – Sarchu – Kilingsarai – Baralacha La – Patseo – Darcha(Himachal Pradesh) – Jispa – Keylong – Tandi – Sissu – Khoksar – Rohtang La – Marhi – Gulaba – Manali. The total distance covered is 472 km and the total elevation gained is close to 7000 metres. I would like to highlight that Guinness did not permit me to use the Atal Tunnel so I had to go over the Rohtang pass. The previous record by Bharat Pannu was 35:32 and that was what we aimed to better in our attempt.
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